5 steps to finding an insightful market researcher

This post is by Jason Dunstone the Managing Director of Square Holes, a progressive full-service market research agency established in Adelaide in 2004, and now with a Melbourne office. 

Impactful marketing starts with an insight. Be it a spark of creative genius written on a napkin or inspired by deep exploration of the category and its consumers.

I’m here today to argue that the best insight is found at the intersect between intuitive thinking and analytical thinking, and those most adept at finding this sweet spot are professional market researchers. I’ll also give some tips on finding the right market research partner(s) for you.

Market Research Partner

Just as professional marketers are the most proficient at pulling consumer insight into a powerful brand and marketing strategy, and creative agencies are likely best at building impactful campaigns, market researchers are the masters of consumer insight.

Yes, the tools available to DIY are seemingly making it easier for any monkey to do a survey. And, outsourcing market research to a professional market researcher does come at a cost. However, if done right the reduced risk and return from market research is well and truly worth it.

Market researchers are the independent, expert voice of the consumer. They know the best way to find, collect, analyse and report robust consumer insight. 

Consumer insight

Market researchers also provide protection against the oh-so-scary Privacy Act, and collect, store and use consumer information to the highest legal, quality and ethical standards.

If selected right, market researchers not only inspire strategic insight, but provide protection against legal infringements and ethical dilemmas as to how consumer data is collected and used.

Hopefully, most readers already invest in professional market research as a critical part of their marketing program. Be this deep dive studies to understand the category and its consumers, testing and refining of strategic concepts and/or monitoring the impact of marketing efforts, lessons and opportunities.

There is, however, an undercurrent of marketing mavericks preferring to go solely with their intuitive gut feel or avoid using professional market researchers. Be this not knowing how to find insightful market researchers, lack of value previously or an absence of care about what real people think, do and want.

The critical factor is finding the right market researcher. Below is a simple five step list to help find the right fit for you.

So, how can marketing mavericks find insightful market researchers?

Step 1: Avoid Cowboys and Dabblers

As in any profession, there are loads of opportunists and dabblers offering market research as a service with limited actual experience nor expertise.

There are seemingly few barriers to entry and with DIY tools such as SurveyMonkey, any peanut can proclaim to be a market researcher it seems. However, “garbage in, garbage out,” and while ignorance is bliss for some, it can be dangerous.

If the qualitative and quantitative data is not collected, stored, analysed and reported correctly, it will provide inaccurate findings and with this bogus insights and a high level of strategic risk.

The Australian market and social research industry associations AMSRS, AMSRO and RICA are very active in setting standards, and have many initiatives to help marketers and others seeking assistance in finding trustworthy market researchers.

For example, in 2015, AMSRO launched the Trust Mark:

“A seal of endorsement that ensures AMSRO member organisations are compliant with the highest ethical standards, particularly in regards to privacy. It also provides buyers of research the assurance that their data is protected.”

“AMSRO members are awarded the Trust Mark as part of their membership once they have met the strict criteria. To maintain the Trust Mark, AMSRO member companies will take part in an independent ISO audit, must comply with AMSRO’s co-regulated privacy code and participate in ongoing member training.”

AMSRO-Trust-Mark-comb

To ensure the highest quality control standards are being maintained, many of Australia’s market and research suppliers are ISO 20252:2012 certified (Quality in Market and Social Research).

With the ever tightening privacy legislation, and potential fines in the millions of dollars, it is critical that the market researcher is working in accordance with Australian privacy legislation.

The world is becoming more data driven, and with a number of  high profile breaches, it is vital to take this seriously.  Members of the Association of Market and Social Research Organisations work in accordance with the Privacy (Market and Social Research) Code 2014, the first and only registered privacy code under the Australian Privacy Principles (APP).

Professional market researchers also adhere to the Australian Market and Social Research Society’s strict Code of Professional Behaviour. The AMSRS Code of Professional Behaviour sets out the basic principles that must guide the actions of those who carry out or use market and social research.

Yes, this is all very serious, but important to ensure that market research is conducted to the highest quality, privacy and ethical standards. 

The AMSRS provides a directory of market and social researcher suppliers across Australia, including filters by geographic location, specialist skills etc. AMSRO includes a list of around 90 market and social research suppliers across Australia with the AMSRO Trust Mark and working to the highest standards.

Similar quality, privacy and ethical standards are maintained by market and social research associations globally – e.g. ESOMAR and MRS.

This is a great place to start creating a short-list.

Step 2: Create a short-list

With the above in mind, it is now time to filter down to market researchers best fitting your team, ethos, strategic priorities etc. How you filter down to the market researchers best fitting your needs is obviously up to you.

Here are some tips …

1. Word-of-mouth:

Which market researchers do your associates, friends and colleagues recommend? Ask, the marketers you respect for some suggestions. You may have different needs or desire to try someone new, but it is a great start.

2. Previous experience:

Have you or your team ever had dealings with any market researchers? Visit the websites of market researchers and look for testimonials from past clients on how they have provided tangible support. This may include experience in your category and/or experience in other categories that may bring fresh perspective and insight. Look for case studies illustrating clear outcomes, or awards illustrating the ability to generate insights that result in strategic outcomes. For example, the Australian Market Institute offers annual State and national consumer insight excellence awards, and the Research Industry Council of Australia has bi-annual research consumer insight and effectiveness awards.

3. Research the researchers:

Google the market researchers you are considering. Search beyond the researcher’s website as to articles, conference presentations, videos, social media and other coverage on their perspectives and expertise. Also worth exploring is their presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other digital footprints. Do they appear strategic, insightful, creative and in-tune with marketing, consumer trends and strategy in 2015 and beyond? 

4. Areas of capability:

Some market researchers are focused on qualitative approaches such as ethnography, focus groups and personal interviews. Some have a skew to panels, on-line communities or big data, surveys and other quantitative approaches. Other market researchers have a more holistic approach and utilise a wide range of methodologies to find consumer insights. Some researchers are full-service and have their own researchers, statisticians, moderators, panels, field teams (interviewing, recruiting etc) and phone interviewing capabilities. Others outsource particular capabilities. Market researchers may be part of a large national or international group, or smaller research agencies. It comes back to your requirements and intentions, preference for a large or smaller research agency, as well as any implications of outsourcing and the research methodologies used.

5. Other considerations:

When creating a short-list there are many other considerations you might wish to take into account. For example, do they have a local office, or are they easily accessible for face-to-face meetings if and when required? It is also important to check the skills and background of the market researchers, depth and range of expertise they can bring to your team. The ethos and philosophical fit of the market researcher to you and your team is also important. Are you seeking a conservative, modern, youthful or more traditional market researcher?

Step 3: Get to know them

It is now worth getting to know the market researchers. Send them an email and ask for more information. Or, even better, give them a phone call and arrange to meet at your office, their office or over a coffee. Having an informal chat with the short-listed market researchers is a nice way to get to know them, and assess their likely ability to work with you and your team.

Be open about your requirements, and marketing challenges and opportunities. Encourage them to discuss relevant experience and to illustrate their understanding of your business and how they may be able to assist. If possible, open up the discussion about a potential market research need, and see how they respond.

Do you like what they say? Would you like to work with them in the short-term and potentially in the longer term?

Step 4: Commission market research

Okay, you are now ready to get started building a market research relationship. You may have already discussed this with your short-list or the market researcher you wish to work with.

Where possible it is nice to have a written brief, but from my perspective this does not need to be too detailed. Of particular importance is what does success from the market research mean to you in the immediate, short and longer term?

Are you seeking to better position your brand, develop new products, sell more or to be more strategic moving forward? Be clear about the anticipated outcomes and who will be using the market research.

Worthwhile information in a research brief may include the following …

1. Background

…such as details of your business, market, product or marketing issue, and strategic nature of the project and any relevant facts or previous research relevant to the project.

2. Research Purpose

…including details of the reason for the market research, such as specific business/marketing decisions that will be made on the basis of the research findings and insights.

3. Target Group[s]

…for the research such as customers, potential customers and potential audiences.

4. Project objectives

…which may include overall strategic objective, key outcomes and specific research objectives.

5. Timing

…including when you require the market research proposal and other critical deadlines / milestones for reporting, implementation of outcomes etc.

6. Budget

…expectations, needs or restrictions on this project. As an indication, budgets can range from around $10,000 to more than $100,000 for ad-hoc projects. An indication of available budget is fine, but stating a budget range does allow for the market researcher to define a methodology to fit your needs and financial constraints. If need be, the research may be phased or simplified to fit with budget limitations.

Allowing market researchers to present their methodology back to you and the team is a good way to discuss, debate and refine the approach to best suit your needs. Market research programs are typically tailored to a particular client’s needs, so it is important a dialogue occurs. How can the market researcher best be of assistance?

How you select a market researcher is up to you. Generally, market research buyers have a range of criteria just like buying any other professional service. This may include a combination of how well the market researcher understands your needs, the research tools utilised and how these will be applied to your situation, team capabilities, value and relevant experience.

Step 5: Build a relationship

As in any similar relationship, the contribution of a market researcher to your business will increase as they evolve from a service provider to a trusted advisor. Candid two-way dialogue is essential. Be clear about your requirements, and allow the market researcher to bring their specialist skills to the table.

Encourage the market researcher to be candid with you, and equally, if you do not understand or agree with any of their conclusions say it. Professional market researchers are able to work with clients to ensure the insights are understood, fit with the overall strategy and critically result in actionable directions.

Work with your market researcher beyond the ‘final’ report and presentation. If fully utilised, your market researcher is your independent, expert, voice of your consumer and customer. They thrive on knowing their insights have helped make a difference.

Typically a close relationship develops over time as the market researcher gains a stronger understanding of your requirements, working style and market research needs. Insights from multiple market research projects or tracking over time will snowball and a greater depth of understanding will be gathered.

Market researchers ensure that the ‘people’ aspect of marketing is given the attention it deserves and to guide your marketing strategy. Seeking a market research partner with two-way openness and candor, and working to the highest quality, ethical and privacy standards is critical in finding insights to ensure your marketing is impactful.

TrinityP3’s comprehensive Search & Selection process provides extensive market knowledge, tightly defined process and detailed evaluation and assessment, to help you find the right agency supplier. Read more here

About Jason Dunstone

Jason Dunstone is the Managing Director of Square Holes, a progressive market research agency established in Adelaide in 2004, and now with a Melbourne office. Square Holes was national finalist for the AMI Consumer Insight award for marketing excellence 2010, 2012 and 2014, and a finalist in the 2014 RICA Research Effectiveness award for consumer insight 2014. Square Holes is bound by the Industry Code of Professional Behaviour and Market & Social Research Privacy Principles, and holds the Association of Market & Social Research Organisations Trust Mark.

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